Which country has the best vegetarian food in the world?

India — according to cookbook author and actress Madhur Jaffrey, who has been considered the 'godmother' of Indian cooking for over 40 years.

"I seem biased and I probably am, but there is no food that compares. There is no food that goes back 2,000, 3,000 years," Jaffrey told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

"We worked out not only which are the best nutritious meals to put together which are fully vegetarian, but also the medicinal properties of those spices and seasonings that we use, what goes with what, and what you eat in what season. Our ancestors have worked this out."

sheila peacock

Madhur Jaffrey is interviewed by host Sheryl MacKay as she demonstrates her curry recipe at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)

That inspired Jaffrey to travel the country and not just collect recipes but watch how other people cook the vegetarian dishes that have been passed down from generations.

The result is her new cookbook Vegetarian India, which is filled with over 200 recipes as well as the fascinating stories and photographs of the people and places behind them.

"There are many recipes that even Indians don't know, because India is so vast," she said.

Jaffrey shared a recipe from her latest cookbook with North by Northwest for Kodava mushroom curry with coconut.

She said the recipe comes from the Kodava people of Kodagu (or Coorg) in Karnatka, a region in southwestern India that has tropical forests, and grows coffee beans, cardamom and black pepper.  

Jaffrey said mushrooms make up this curry because during the rainy season the locals forage for many different kinds of wild mushrooms.

But, "this is a dish anyone can make at home, with any mushrooms."

Kodava mushroom curry with coconut

Ingredients:

  • A 14-oz can coconut milk, left undisturbed for 24 hours to allow the cream to rise to the top
  • 1 lb small button mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
  • 6 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon nice red chili powder
  • 2–3 fresh hot green  chilies, slit in half lengthwise or finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

Method:

1. Open the can of coconut milk without disturbing it too much and spoon the thick cream at the top into a bowl. Leave the thin coconut milk in the can.

2. Halve the mushrooms. Any large ones may be quartered. Place them all in a bowl and sprinkle the salt and turmeric over them. Wearing plastic gloves if you wish, as the turmeric can stain, thoroughly rub these flavourings into the mushrooms. Set aside for about 10 minutes.

3. Put the oil in a medium frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shallots and stir-fry until they just start to brown. Take the pan off the heat and add the coriander and chili powder. Stir a few times.

4. Put the pan back on the stove, turning the heat to medium-low. Add the green chilies and stir a few times. Now add the mushrooms and their accumulated liquid. Stir and cook on medium-high heat for two minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the thin coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

5.  Add 3/4 cup of the coconut cream and stir to mix. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently, uncovered, for about a minute, stirring now and then. Turn the heat off. Add the lime juice and stir it in.

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: 'Godmother of Indian cooking' Madhur Jaffrey travelled India to research vegetarian dishes for new cookbook